WMA goes to Miami

Agency to open full-service office in April

The William Morris Agency will open a full-service office in Miami Beach in April, becoming the first national tenpercentery to set up shop in what many consider the epicenter of Latino culture in the U.S.

WMA senior veepee Raul Mateu will relocate from New York to head the Miami operation, which will service English-, Spanish-speaking and bilingual clients in music, publishing, television, film and commercials, both in the U.S. and in Central and South America. Primary focus of the office will be music and TV clients, at least at the outset, according to Mateu.

Move reps WMA’s first opening of a new location since 1973, when the agency set up shop in Nashville to service the country music biz. Company also has offices in Beverly Hills, New York and London.

“It’s a relatively new business, these Spanish networks,” explained Mateu, “and there was a point in time where the revenues and the salaries probably didn’t justify an agent’s involvement. But now, as the company valuations and the revenues are rising, the opportunities for talent are growing.”

The corporate headquarters of Spanish-lingo net Telemundo is in Miami, as are Univision’s network operations and studios.

From New York, Mateu has spearheaded WMA’s efforts in cultivating talent and developing programming in Spanish-lingo media, as well as for Latino-themed projects. Outside of television, he has been active in Spanish-lingo publishing and in securing corporate endorsements for clients.

WMA already represents Latino clients including newscaster-author Maria Celeste Arraras, who defected from Univision last year to join Telemundo; sports announcer Andres Cantor (he of the famed “Gooooooaaaaal!” during Telemundo soccer matches); Univision morning show host Alvaro Martin; and Pulitzer Prize-winning Miami Herald columnist Liz Balmaseda. Agency will represent approximately 20 clients when it opens its doors.

Gatekeeper role

WMA prexy Jim Wiatt said the move would open “a window into Latin America” and called it “a real opportunity to be the gatekeeper of (Latino) intellectual property.”

“The important thing, though, is that we would not have done this if it had not been for Raul,” he added. “We have the right guy. Just opening an office there would not be interesting unless we knew we had a guy with a specific entrepreneurial vision (who) was of the culture.”

Wiatt added that Latino publishing was one area that had enormous potential for growth and would be part of Mateu’s focus.

Long-planned move

“This is something we’ve been planning for the past two years,” Mateu told Daily Variety. “It’s not a spur-of-the-moment thing. There is an existing business here that is meaningful, and our pitch, so to speak, was that by being here firsthand, with our talent and with the buyers, it would help further relationships and take us to new business that we can’t even think of right now.”

WMA veepee Michel Vega, who specializes in music, also is relocating from Gotham to Miami; he will continue to work with senior veepee Jorge Pinos, who oversees the agency’s Latin music efforts from L.A.

The third agent is Betsey Helf, who is also moving from New York.

A fourth agent hire, as yet unspecified, is planned, with insiders speculating it may come in the form of a corporate consulting agent.

In addition to the concentration of Spanish-lingo entertainment companies in Miami, Mateu sees opportunities among the expat communities here.

“We noticed … there are a lot of artists who are either living in Miami or spending most of the year here, even though they work in Latin America,” he said. “We felt a need to get closer to them.”

For example, WMA reps hot Latin music acts like rock singer Juanes, who is Colombian; crooner Enrique Iglesias, who was born in Spain; and recording star Luis Miguel, who is Mexican.

Bridge into, out of U.S.

Mateu further aims to use Miami as a bridge for U.S. and European broadcasters and producers into the U.S. Hispanic and the Latin American markets — and for Latin Americans seeking an entry into the U.S., whether in English or Spanish.

In 2001, for example, Mateu brokered the sale of the format rights to Colombian broadcaster RCN’s popular novela “Yo soy Betty, la fea” (“I’m Betty, the Ugly One”) to NBC long before the Peacock’s acquisition of Telemundo, which had introduced U.S. auds to “Betty.”

He is hopeful WMA will be involved in similar deals in the future.

“There’s incredible talent coming out of Latin America in both reality formats and scripted material,” Mateu said.